For the past 10 years I have had the privilege to be part of the teaching facility of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) based at the East West Center in Hawaii. And yes, Hawaii is not too shabby a place to work! Given the destination, trying to summons some degree of sympathy for the arduous journey  (a commute of some 40 + hours), has met with little success. Well, to be honest, with no success!

APLP has allowed me to work with Prof Nick Barker, a collaborative experience that over the years has stretched to Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and South Africa. Interwoven into that journey have been wonderful learning experiences and rich conversations around global leadership. It has been an exploration of discovery around how one knows what they know about leadership. The setting has been a diverse multi-cultural tapestry that has framed the exploration and discussion. It is one that I suspect few have had the opportunity to experience. For example, in the APLP cohort of 2011, there are 42 participants from 24 Asia Pacific countries. I doubt that you could find a more diverse leadership classroom anywhere in the world, and should you know of one, I would like to learn about it.

The two teaching block in which I am involved concern themselves with:

(1) Filters: mapping the personal filters (or lenses) through which we make sense of the world; notably culture, generations (age), personality, race, gender, class, religion and sexual orientation amongst others. By interrogating these filters we enhance self-awareness via a deeper understanding of our biases, triggers and blind spots. In such a diverse setting as APLP, there is also valuable learning around how other people perceive the world and so questions around difference or diversity: (what is it and how to lead it?) emerge. Ultimately learning to lead diversity involves mobilizing people to make mutual contributions to shared welfare (based on who you are), and the coalescence of difference into an independent whole. This is learnt in APLP through lectures, reflection, debate, discussion, film, cooperative projects, assignments and readings.

(2) Leadership: developing suitable frameworks for leading diversity and interrogating what types of leadership are required for such a context. Essentially we explore the nature of leadership – what it is and, equally important, what it is not – and how one can learn leadership most effectively. A central premise is that the world is changing and if this is the case, then so to must leadership change. “Different times require a different script” as Peter Drucker has stated. As change is navigated what we need to retain, discard, and innovate as we imagine leadership in the future are all explored. Who are the pioneers, what exactly is taking place, where and why? Margaret Wheatley defines leadership simply as “stepping forward” and in a sense, understanding what this is and how best to do it is what is explored in this teaching block at APLP

Over the 10 years of collaboration Nick and I have distilled 17 leadership principles that have been forged through the rich learning that is APLP. This is not to say that this represents a definitive list. I am sure that as the learning journey continues more will emerge. The ones we have distilled however have withstood the rigor that is APLP and find themselves as ‘theory’ grounded and rooted in practice.

Let me share these 17 leadership principles with you without elaborating on any of them. Over time, my plan is to delve deeper into each one through the TomorrowToday blog.

The 17 principles as stated are:


  • Leadership makes a difference
  • Leadership encompasses all aspects of life, from personal to professional
  • Leadership can be learned and should be taught
  • All human beings, regardless of background, have leadership potential
  • Leadership is a choice
  • You lead out of who you are
  • Excellent leaders are excellent learners
  • Leadership is contextual and culturally nuanced
  • Leadership is situational. Different leaders should emerge based on situational needs
  • Leadership takes many forms. There is no best style of leadership
  • Leadership is a relational process
  • Leadership is conferred not claimed. Leadership is more than a title or position of authority
  • Leadership is about influence not control
  • Leadership involves mobilizing people
  • Progress (positive change) lies at the heart of leadership
  • Leadership is never mastered. New learning is always required
  • To lead others you must first learn to lead yourself

In this learning leadership journey several leadership frameworks are used including that of Adaptive Leadership and Invitational Leadership. Reflection is a major tool in the development of self-awareness at both a personal and group level. In my experience of dealing with corporate leadership, reflection is the jewel most frequently missing from the crown. Very often the corporate environment and culture simply does not allow for meaningful reflection to occur. This is then mirrored in the design and architecture of leadership education and development programmes.  It is an oversight and a neglect that has serious ramifications for the practice of leadership in our complex and ever-changing world.

I am concerned about how we tend to go about leadership education and development. I see a great deal of effort, no small amount of resources directed at the task, yet there seems to be little real change. Why is this? We have developed a leadership development model in which all too often the tail (the client) wags the dog (the business school – or the perceived experts in this process). The current model has become ‘big business’ and when this occurs there is always a reluctance to overhaul the model. Tampering with the model is limited to cosmetic tweaks here and there but there are no bold initiatives that will create the discomfort and disequilibrium essential for meaningful learning.

If we are to cope with the future, things will have to change. In this regard, APLP is setting the pace and how I wish I could somehow transport you here to see for yourself (of course I am sure you also wish you could somehow miraculously be transported to Hawaii!). Perhaps, the next best thing would be to invite Nick Barker to discuss leadership education and development with you? If you cannot get to Hawaii, then bring ‘Hawaii’ to you! I suspect it would well be worth it.



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